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Medical Terminology Can Sound Pretty Casual In The Emergency Room

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Anyone with experience watching medical dramas on TV feels pretty confident they can understand the slang used by health professionals — terms like stat, code blue and D.O.A. come second-nature to those familiar with the ER.

But did you know there's an entire secondary language doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health workers use from the moment they lay eyes on patients?

Dr. Brian Goldman, a physician at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital and medical journalist, has written a new book on exactly that. The Secret Language of Doctors tells of the medical slang used by these people — at times showcasing an inherent culture, and at others just trying to keep the patient from hearing information they may not want. And of course, there's the rude side of things too.

"A lot of slang is cutting and perjorative, and if I ever heard that, I would stop it," says Dr. Goldman. "But a term like 'frequent flyer,' which means a patient who is in and out of the ER frequently and uses it as their primary care, is often used partly because it makes the health professionals feel like failures."

Dr. Goldman notes obesity as an issue that's prompted many terms, like BeeMer (someone with a BMI of 40 and above) or even calling patients "seals," and reducing them to an animal state. The issue is greater in the U.S., says Dr. Goldman, but is growing here. And though on the whole health professionals are more careful about how they speak to patients, obesity remains the last remaining bias.

"It's often not just the terminology," says Dr. Arya Sharma, head of the Canadian Obesity Network, is quoted as saying in Dr. Goldman's book. "It's the context in which it's used. It's the acceptance that such terminology finds ... If I've got a large woman in distress in front of me, my attitude is going to be very different if I say, 'I've got a whale lying here in my exam room.'"

Dr. Goldman is on a quest to show the human side of the medical profession, as demonstrated in his incredibly popular TED Talk, Doctors Make Mistakes.

"If you pay attention to the slang," he says, "You can actually get a sense of the local culture of medicine, but also the frustrations and the challenges that are involved in treating patients in the 21st century. The problem is when you create an us that turns patients into the enemy. They are our mission, not our enemies."

So what are some of the terms being used by health professionals? Check out this list here, and let us know if you've ever encountered anything like it in the comments below:


Medical Slang

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